Web Developer vs. Software Engineer: What’s the Difference?

  • 12 mins read

Web Developer vs. Software Engineer: What’s the Difference?

Are you tired of being called a “computer person” by your parents just because you apparently know how to restart the Wi-Fi router? Well, welcome to the club! But if you’re considering a career in tech, it’s important to know the difference between a web developer vs. software engineer. 

Web development and software engineering are like two sides of the same coin, each representing unique skill sets and expertise within the realm of technology. A web developer focuses on designing and implementing visually appealing and functional websites, while a software engineer concentrates on developing intricate software systems. 

That’s why it’s important to know the difference between these two roles before diving into the tech industry. So, whether you’re a seasoned pro looking to switch career paths or a newbie who’s just learning to code, sit back, relax, and let’s explore the exciting world of web development and software engineering together!

What does a software engineer do?

So let’s really start off with the basics, what does a software engineer really do? As a software engineer, your job is to create things by solving problems.

Whether it’s designing a mobile app that helps people manage their finances or building software that can predict the next viral TikTok trend, you’ll be the one bringing these ideas to life.

Here is a breakdown of the roles of a software engineer:

The Problem Solver

At the heart of a software engineer’s role is problem-solving. You’ll be tasked with understanding complex issues, identifying what technology can help solve them, and then designing software that does the job. It’s a lot like being a detective, only with less dramatic music and more coffee stains.

The Programming Guru

It goes without saying that a software engineer needs to be proficient in multiple programming languages. While you may have your go-to languages like Python or C++, it’s important to stay up-to-date with new programming languages and trends. It’s like learning a new language, only with fewer grammar rules and more brackets.

The Collaborator

Creating software is rarely a one-person job. As a software engineer, you’ll often work on a team with other engineers, designers, and stakeholders. Being able to communicate clearly, collaborate effectively, and listen to feedback are all essential skills. It’s like being part of a band, only with fewer groupies and more Zoom meetings.

What Skills Do You Need To Become A Software Engineer?

Becoming a software engineer requires a unique combination of technical and creative skills. You need to be able to think critically, solve complex problems, and have a strong attention to detail. Here are some essential skills for anyone pursuing a career in software engineering:

  • Strong programming skills in at least one language, and familiarity with multiple languages.
  • Comfort working with different technologies, including servers, clients, and operating systems.
  • Ability to manage threading and concurrency, adapt existing systems, automate building/packaging/updating, and more.
  • Strong problem-solving skills and ability to identify and troubleshoot issues.
  • Attention to detail in every aspect of software development.
  • Understanding of software design principles, such as SOLID, DRY, and KISS.
  • Ability to work in a team and strong communication and collaboration skills.

Being a software engineer is a never-ending puzzle with endless possibilities. Sure, there are frustrating days, but when you finally crack a difficult problem, the satisfaction is unmatched. One of the most exciting parts of being a software engineer is getting to work on projects that have a real-world impact. So if you like that kind of stuff, you’ll have a good time.

What does a web developer do?

So have you ever visited a website and thought, “Wow, this is actually terrible. Who built this thing?” Well, as web developers, it’s our job to make sure that never happens. We’re the ones responsible for creating the magic behind the scenes.

As a web developer, you’ll spend your days playing with code, obsessing over every little detail, and dreaming up new and exciting ways to make a website come to life. And let’s be real, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing your code in action and knowing that you created something amazing right?

Of course, being a web developer also means spending a lot of time debugging. So, get ready to roll up your sleeves and dig into the nitty-gritty details of why that darn button won’t work.

But don’t worry, there’s always a solution to every problem. It just might take a few hours of staring at the screen and wondering why on earth you decided to pursue a career in web development in the first place.

So in a nutshell, web developers build and maintain websites. They take the creative designs provided by web designers and bring them to life through code. Whether it’s a personal blog, a business website or an e-commerce platform, web developers are responsible for making sure the website works smoothly and looks aesthetically pleasing as well. 

Here are a few of the many roles the web developer plays.

The Coder

A web developer’s primary role is to code. They need to be proficient in multiple programming languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The world of web development is constantly evolving, and a good web developer needs to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies. 

You need to be willing to learn new programming languages, frameworks, and tools to keep your skills current and relevant. Plus, with the rapid pace of technological advancements, you never know when a new coding language or framework might become the “new HTML.”

The Troubleshooter

Web development is not just about coding. You also need to have excellent problem-solving skills. Whether it’s a bug in the code or an issue with the website’s functionality, you need to be able to quickly identify and fix the problem. This means being able to think logically, work well under pressure, and being willing to dive deep into the code to find a solution.

The Architect

Being a web developer is like being a magician. You have to take a client’s vision and make it come to life on the web. But instead of pulling rabbits out of hats, you’re pulling websites out of your code editor. You need to have a creative mindset to be able to design visually appealing websites that are also functional and user-friendly. As a web developer, you need to be able to design and build the structure of the website to ensure it runs efficiently and smoothly. This includes building the navigation, ensuring the website is scalable and implementing best practices for search engine optimization (SEO).

What skills do you need to become a web developer?

As you can see, being a web developer actually requires a broad set of skills. You need to be able to think logically and have a strong attention to detail. Here are some of the skills that are  really essential for you to become a successful web developer:

  • Proficiency in languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
  • An understanding of web development frameworks like React and Angular.
  • Familiarity with web design tools like Photoshop and Sketch.
  • Strong problem-solving skills.
  • Attention to detail and the ability to test and debug code.
  • An understanding of web standards and best practices for SEO and accessibility.

Difference Between Web Developer vs. Software Engineer

While web developers and software engineers both rely on a foundation of programming and computer science concepts, there are some areas of knowledge that are more pertinent to software engineers than web developers. Here are a few key computer science concepts that software engineers often need to know, but web developers might not necessarily require:

Operating Systems

Software engineers need a deep understanding of operating systems, including process management, memory management, file systems, and inter-process communication. This knowledge allows them to build efficient software that effectively interacts with the underlying hardware.

Computer Networks

While web developers should understand the basics of networking, software engineers often need more in-depth knowledge of network protocols, architecture, and security to develop distributed systems or communication-intensive applications.

Compilers and Interpreters

Software engineers must understand how programming languages are translated into machine code by compilers and interpreters. This knowledge is crucial for optimizing code performance, debugging, and working with low-level languages.

Software Architecture and Design Patterns

While web developers may use design patterns in their work, software engineers often need a more comprehensive understanding of software architecture principles and patterns to create modular, maintainable, and scalable systems.

Parallel and Distributed Computing

Software engineers often need to design and develop systems that can execute tasks concurrently or on multiple machines. Understanding parallel and distributed computing principles, such as synchronization, task decomposition, and load balancing, is important for building efficient and robust systems.

Embedded Systems: Software engineers working with embedded systems must understand how to write code for resource-constrained environments, such as microcontrollers or IoT devices, which may require specialized knowledge in real-time systems, power management, and hardware-software integration.

Cryptography and Security

While web developers must be aware of security best practices, software engineers often require more in-depth knowledge of cryptographic techniques, secure communication protocols, and threat modeling to ensure the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of data and systems.

Web Developer vs. Software Engineer: they both work on complex systems

The main goal that Web developers have in their mind is to actually build user-friendly websites that are optimized for performance and search engine visibility. They focus on the experience you get, visiting a website on your phone or computer.

Whereas software engineers work on an entirely different set of problems, and can sometimes take on the role of systems engineer too. They have to work on developing complex software systems, which can actually range from enterprise-level applications to even hard problems that are mission-critical systems that run spacecraft and medical equipment. So yeah–they need to keep in mind that human lives are at stake too. 

Software engineering includes the world of artificial intelligence too, which we all know can get incredibly complex. 

But that’s not to say web developers don’t have to deal with complex systems! In fact, the modern internet, composed of hundreds of different frameworks, languages, and dependencies, can get extremely cumbersome and difficult to manage, especially when you start working on a truly massive web app.

Similarities Between Web Developer vs. Software Engineer?

As it turns out, web developers and software engineers actually have more in common than just their love for caffeine and late-night coding sessions.

Proficiency in programming languages

Whether you’re pursuing web development or software engineering, you really need to know at least one programming language. Web developers tend to specialize in web languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, while software engineers work with a wider range of languages, like C++, Java, and Python. Either way, you’re going to be spending a lot of time getting intimate with your keyboard.

Attention to detail

As a web developer or software engineer, you need to be a stickler for details. You’re actually going to spend hours poring over code, looking for syntax errors or debugging complex functions. But hey, at least you’ll never miss the forest for the trees, right?

Problem-solving skills

When something goes wrong, it’s up to the web developer or software engineer to find the root cause and come up with a solution. Whether it’s a pesky bug in the code or a user experience issue, both roles require the ability to think critically and solve complex problems.

Understanding of web standards and best practices

Web developers and software engineers both need to understand how to write high-quality code that meets industry standards and best practices. Whether it’s building a responsive website or creating software that can scale to handle millions of users, you need to know how to do it right. Because when it comes to programming, there’s no room for half-baked solutions.

Web Developer vs. Software Engineer: FAQs

Why should I become a web developer?

Becoming a web developer can be an incredibly rewarding career path. As a web developer, you’ll have the opportunity to create things that people all over the world can see and interact with. You’ll get to be a part of the creative process, problem-solving and developing solutions that are intuitive and engaging.

Why should I become a software engineer?

Well, do you love to solve problems and be part of creating innovative solutions? Then becoming a software engineer might be the perfect career for you! You’ll get to work on projects that impact people’s lives and make a real difference. 

Can a web developer become a software engineer?

Absolutely! In fact, some might say that web developers are the secret superheroes of the software engineering world. The skills and knowledge required for web development overlap with those of software engineering, and the transition between the two fields can be relatively seamless. 

Web developers are already used to dealing with the hair-pulling frustration of fixing finicky code, so becoming a software engineer may even feel like a relaxing vacation. So if you’re a web developer who wants to level up their coding skills and become a software engineering superstar, go for it!

Should I become a web developer or software engineer?

Well, that’s a tough question. It’s like asking if you should be a dog person or a cat person. Both web development and software engineering have their unique perks and challenges. It really comes down to what you’re passionate about and what kind of problems you want to solve. 

Final Thoughts: Web Developer vs. Software Engineer

Ultimately, both fields can offer a rewarding career with plenty of opportunities for growth and innovation. So, maybe the real question is: why not be both a web developer and a software engineer? Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?